Saint Peter in Penitence
Saint Peter, shown as penitent in a deserted rocky landscape, can be recognized by his attributes in the keys and books that lie before him. The cock (to the right, near a waterfall) refers to Peter's denials of Christ (Mark XIV, 30, 66-72). Jesus had foretold Peter that “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” According to a tradition, particularly strong in Flanders, the Apostle used to shed tears whenever he heard a cock crow.
This painting has been paired with Saint Mary Magdalen in Penitence (DPG323) dated 1634. It is assumed that Teniers painted Saint Peter around the same time early in his career. There is a drawing of a similar landscape in the Courtauld Gallery, in which the saint and his attributes are still missing (although it includes a cross), suggesting that the picture was originally conceived as a landscape.
There has been some uncertainty as to the authorship of works from Teniers’ early period, when the painter still experimented with different artistic trends. The pair of saints in rocky landscapes was once ascribed to Teniers’ father, David Teniers the Elder. However his father’s bright, green-toned landscapes with trees and open vistas in the tradition of Adam Elsheimer differ substantially from these yellow-brown grottos. Teniers the Younger depicts individual motifs with great detail and his development of the landscape shows a clearer understanding of the picture space. He used grottos in the style of Paul Bril and Joos de Momper as fitting settings for hermits and penitent saints.